April 26, 2012

Taking your breath away

Breathing is essential – we all know that.  So, why is it that so many people don’t breathe when they get behind their harp?  Most people don’t even realize they aren’t breathing.  Of course, you don’t see people turning blue, but you do see people just not breathing enough.  So, how do you keep the wind in your sails?  Here are three things you can do.

1.       Start by taking a deep breath – when you sit to your harp, take a deep breath.  Let that breath relax you.  If the simple act of taking the breath didn’t dissipate your stress, then take another. Deep, slow breath – focus on the breathing.  That breath will help you not only get oxygen in but can help you relax enough to both enjoy your time at the harp but also to get more from it!

2.       Breathe while you’re thinking about it – whenever you have a free second in your brain (that is, if the thought “breathe” enters your head) take a breath!  No short, panting breathing, but gentle, deeper breaths.
3.       Practice breathing.  I can already hear you, “when I’m practicing, I already have a lot of work to do and you want me to add another task!”  But, just like you have to practice the physical task of setting levers you have to practice breathing.  If you practice the breath as part of the overall physical activity of playing, when you are not practicing (you know, when you’re competing or on stage) you will breathe.  Which will be good – because you’ll need it!

Try these three tips – it will be like a breath of fresh air in your playing!

April 18, 2012

Somedays, it feels like you'll never get up!

Some days, the time is fluid, the needful things all seem to be complete and there's your harp, all ready to be played.  But other days are like the third day of a diet - you know, the day you start to backslide, cheat, eat M&Ms because they're small and they don't count.

Those are the days on which your life gangs up on you - there's so much to do and no matter how hard you work, you don't get the needful things completed, the only thing that changes on your "Things to Do" list is that it keeps getting longer, and when you fall exhaustedly into bead, you jolt awake with the thought, "oh, [bother], I never practiced today!"  And, because you're exhausted, as you slide into sleep, you feel guilty and just a little fatter (well, the harp equivalent). 

H.G. Wells is quoted as saying, "If you fell down yesterday, stand up today."  He's got a good point.  We all know we must practice to maintain our hard won gains (and so as not to embarrass ourselves when someone asks us to play an impromptu concert).  But we also know that we live in the world and stuff happens.
On those days (which do sometimes stretch into weeks) be kind to yourself.  If your harp buddy was confessing that practice was a word he could no longer even spell, would you start castigating him?  If your workshop roomie let slip that she's kind of in a hiatus from actually practicing, would you read her the riot act?  No, you wouldn't do either of those things. You would express kind hearted support – you’d try to make them feel better – after all, things come up.
So, don't do that to yourself either.  Recognize that harp, like everything else in your life, is clamoring for your attention.  Recognize that because you love your harp so much you might actually favor it over other things on the good days (cleaning would be one of those things!) so you feel keenly the not good days when you don’t get to play.
Make a promise to yourself to be gentle with you, praise your good, and accept that less good.  Know that sometimes you need a little break to return to your love affair with a light heart.
And aren't we lucky - the loves of our lives sit there, patiently waiting, going out of tune (this must be the harp equivalent of when your dog chews your shoes to express displeasure!).  So, when things calm down, go back, play the old, well worn, easy stuff that you don't forget and the next day, take on a challenge! 
Just ‘cause you fell down today doesn’t mean that tomorrow won’t be better and you can get right up…onto your harp bench!

April 11, 2012

What does your space look like?

What does the space in which you practice look like?  Is it warm and inviting, beckoning you to come play?  Or does it look the bigger cousin of the kitchen junk drawer? 

What you put around you impacts your time at the harp.  And since none of us has enough time at the harp, we need to make sure our surroundings help us maximise that time rather than gnawing on our conscious or our unconscious thought.
No matter whether you have an entire wing of your house devoted to enshrining your harp or if you have your harp wedged into a corner, you should make sure that your surroundings help you play, practice, grow, and enjoy.

So, here are four things you can do to improve your space so that you enjoy being there more and get better performance from yourself while you are there.

1.  Make the space inviting and comfortable.  This is clearly personal and you should make the space yours.  There are number of things that can make the space better for you.  Make sure you have good lighting.  Have enough space to safely play and store your harp.  Will the dog run through and knock it over?  Do you have enough room for your bench.  If you have a small space, be sure you have enough room for good form and technique throughout the range of the harp (when you play the top strings, are your elbows brushing the walls? Then move!).  You may have to move the furniture around (but since its not a harp, I'm sure no one will notice or care!). 

2.  Have on hand the things you will need - eventually.  You know you need a tuner and lighting and space for your harp.  But there are other things you need to store nearby as well - music? music stand?  extra strings? a string chart? whatever other bits and bobs you want to have there.  Make sure those things are easily accessible so you have them when you need them.  For instance, if a string breaks during your practice, it might not be enough to have the strings close by, you might also need string ends, candle gum, pliers, et autre accoutrement.

3.  Of course having things near by means your must have a place to put those things.  And that you actually put them in their place when not in use!  Organizing your things will keep the space tidy so it won't be a distraction while you're practicing. 

4.  Use the space you have to do the things you do.  If you don't just play but also have people listen, you'll need a comfortable place for them to sit. If you do a lot of arranging, you'll need a place for your pens and pencils, manuscript paper, erasers (if you're at all like me!).  If you do recording, you'll need the recorder itself and a stand or table.

Each of us uses our harps and the space in a very personal way.  Make sure you organize your space so you can accomplish all you want to without having to "fight" the room to make your accomplishments.

April 4, 2012

Quick, before the window closes!

The 2012 Harp in the Highlands and Islands Tour is coming up quickly and it looks like there are only 2 seats left!


If you are interested, there's still time - our 2012 tour departs Edinburgh 16 July and returns there after a week of seeing some spectacular parts of Scotland. 

We welcome everyone - harp players, people who love the harp and want to give it a try, people who are love to listen to the harp and traditional music, players of other small instruments, and people the would just like to explore Scotland.  We'll see breathtaking sites, history, meet wonderful people, and learn tunes that are tied to our travels.   We will continue to bring the harp experience to our travellers and can't wait to share it with you.

For more information, go to www.jeniuscreations.com, email me or leave a comment here. I hope you'll be joining us!